VALENTINE’S DAY AROUND THE WORLD

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VALENTINE’S DAY AROUND THE WORLD

While researching the history and traditions of St. Valentine’s Day, I came across some fascinating information on the traditions/history of the holiday around the globe.

The earliest surviving valentine is a 15th-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife, which commences:

Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée…

At the time, the duke was being held in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt (1415).

The earliest surviving valentines in English appear to be those in the Paston Letters, written in 1477 by Margery Brewes to her future husband John Paston “my right well-beloved Valentine”.

Due to a concentrated marketing effort, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in some East Asian countries with China and South Korea spending the most money on Valentine’s gifts.   In China, the common situation is the man gives chocolate, flowers or both to the woman that he loves. In Chinese, Valentine’s Day is called lovers’ festival.   The so-called “Chinese Valentine’s Day” is the Qixi Festival, celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. It commemorates a day on which a legendary cow herder and weaving maid are allowed to be together. Valentine’s Day on February 14 is not celebrated because it is often too close to the Chinese New Year, which usually falls on either January or February.  In Chinese culture, there is an older observance related to lovers, called “The Night of Sevens”.  According to the legend, the Cowherd star and the Weaver Maid star are normally separated by the  Milky Way (silvery river) but are allowed to meet by crossing it on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar.

In Finland, Valentine’s Day is called Ystävänpäivä which translates into “Friend’s Day”. As the name indicates, this day is more about remembering all your friends, not only your loved ones.

In Estonia, Valentine’s Day is called Sõbrapäev, whose meaning has the same translation as the Finish and celebrated in the same fashion.

In France, a traditionally Catholic country, Valentine’s Day is known simply as “Saint Valentin,” and is celebrated in much the same way as other western countries.

St. Valentine’s Day in Greek tradition was not associated with romantic love; In the Eastern Orthodox church there is another Saint who protects people who are in love, Hyacinth of Caesarea (feast day July 3rd ), but in contemporary Greece, this tradition has mostly been superseded by the “globalized” form of Valentine’s Day.

In India, in antiquity, there was a tradition of adoring Kamadeva, the lord of love; exemplified by the erotic carvings in the Khajuraho Group of Monuments and by the writing of the Kama sutra treaty of lovemaking. This tradition was lost around the Middle Ages, when Kamadeva was no longer celebrated, and public displays of sexual affection became frowned upon. This repression of public affections persisted until the 1990s.  In the state of West Bengal, Saraswati Puja, a festival observed in early spring where Sarawati,  the goddess of learning is worshiped; has often been seen as a Bengali version of Valentine’s Day; especially among the urban middle class youth.    Valentine’s Day celebrations didn’t catch on in India until around 1992. It was spread due to the programs in commercial TV channels, such as MTV, dedicated radio programs and love letter competitions, in addition to an economical liberalization that allowed the explosion of the valentine card industry.   Economic liberalization also helped the Valentine card industry.  The celebration has caused a sharp change on how people have been displaying their affection in public since the Middle Ages.

In modern times, Hindu and Islamic traditionalists have considered the holiday to be cultural contamination from the West, a result of the globalization in India.   Asaram Bapu, the Hindu leader of the Sant Sri Asaramji Ashram has stated that “Those who celebrate ‘Valentine’s Day’ in the present manner do in fact insult the saint himself; for they try to start a love-affair before their actual marriage by sending Valentine cards to one another. Had St. Valentine supported this system, he would not have solemnized the marriages in the first place.”  Shiv Sena and the Sangh Parivar have asked their followers to shun the holiday and the “public admission of love” because of them being “alien to Indian culture”.  Although these protests are organized by political elites, the protesters themselves are middle-class Hindu men who fear that the globalization will destroy the traditions in their society:  arranged marriages.  Hindu joint families, full-time mothers, and so forth.

Despite these obstacles, Valentine’s Day is becoming increasingly popular in India.

Valentine’s Day has been strongly criticized from a post-colonial perspective by intellectuals from the Indian left. The holiday is regarded as a front for “Western imperialism”, “neo-colonialism,” and “the exploitation of working classes through commercialism by multi-national corporations.”  Studies have shown that Valentine’s Day promotes and exacerbates income inequality in India, and aids in the creation of a pseudo-westernized middle class.  As a result, the working classes and rural poor become more disconnected socially, politically, and geographically from the hegemonic capitalist power structure. They also criticize mainstream media attacks on Indians opposed to Valentine’s Day as a form of demonization that is designed and derived to further the Valentine’s Day agenda.  Right wing Hindu nationalists are also hostile. In February 2012 couples were warned that they cannot kiss or hug in public places or they will be beaten up.  He said “We are not against love, but we criticize vulgar exhibition of love at public places”.

In Iran, the Sepandamazgan, or Esfandegan, is a festival where people express love towards their mothers and wives, and it is also a celebration of earth in ancient Persian culture. It has been progressively forgotten in favor of the Western celebration of Valentine’s Day. The Association of Iran’s Cultural and Natural Phenomena has been trying since 2006 to make Sepandarmazgan a national holiday on 17 February, in order to replace the Western holiday.

In Israel, the Jewish tradition of Tu B’Av has been revived and transformed into the Jewish equivalent of Valentine’s Day. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Av (usually in late August). In ancient times girls would wear white dresses and dance in the vineyards, where the boys would be waiting for them.  Today, Tu Be’av is celebrated as a second holiday of love by secular people (besides Saint Valentine’s Day), and it shares many of the customs associated with Saint Valentine’s Day in western societies. In modern Israeli culture Tu Be’av is a popular day to pronounce love, propose marriage and give gifts like cards or flowers.

In Japan, Morozoff, Ltd. introduced the holiday for the first time in 1936, when it ran an advertisement aimed at foreigners. Later in 1953 it began promoting the giving of heart-shaped chocolates; other Japanese confectionery companies followed suit thereafter. In 1958 the Isetan department store ran a “Valentine sale”. Further campaigns during the 1960s popularized the custom.     The custom that only women give chocolates to men appears to have originated from the translation error of a chocolate-company executive during the initial campaigns.   In particular, office ladies give chocolate to their co-workers.  Unlike western countries, gifts such as greeting cards, candies, flowers or dinner dates are uncommon, and most of the activity about the gifts is about giving the right amount of chocolate to each person.   Japanese chocolate companies make half their annual sales during this time of the year.    In the 1980s the Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association launched a successful campaign to make March 14 a “reply day”, where men are expected to return the favour to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine’s Day, calling it White Day for the color of the chocolates being offered. A previous failed attempt to popularize this celebration had been done by a marshmallow manufacturer who wanted men to return marshmallows to women.

Men are expected to return gifts that are at least two or three times more valuable than the gifts received in Valentine’s Day. Not returning the gift is perceived as the man placing himself in a position of superiority, even if excuses are given. Returning a present of equal value is considered as a way to say that you are cutting the relationship. Originally only chocolate was given, but now the gifts of jewelry, accessories, clothing and lingerie are usual. According to the official website of White Day, the color white was chosen because it’s the color of purity, evoking “pure, sweet teen love”, and because it’s also the color of sugar. The initial name was “Ai ni Kotaeru White Day” (Answer Love on White Day).

In Japan, the romantic “date night” associated to Valentine’s Day is celebrated on Christmas Eve.

A survey of people between 10 and 49 years of age in Japan, Oricon Style found the 1986 Sayuri Kokusho single “Valentine Kiss” to be the most popular Valentine’s Day song, even though it sold only 317,000 copies.  The singles it beat in the ranking were number one selling “Love Love Love” from Dreams Come True and “Valentine’s Radio” from Yumi. The final song in the top five was “My Funny Valentine” by Miles Davis.

In some Latin American countries Valentine’s Day is known as “Día Del Amor y la Amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship).   It is also common to see people perform “acts of appreciation” for their friends. In Guatemala it is known as the “Día del Cariño” (Affection Day).   In Brazil, the Dia dos Namorados ( “Lovers’ Day”, or “Boyfriends’/Girlfriends’ Day”) is celebrated on June 12, probably because that is the day before Saint Anthony’s day, known there as the marriage saint, when traditionally many single women perform popular rituals, called simpatias, in order to find a good husband or boyfriend. Couples exchange gifts, chocolates, cards and flower bouquets. The February 14th Valentine’s Day is not celebrated at all because it usually falls too little before or too little after the Brazilian Carnival  — that can fall anywhere from early February to early March and lasts almost a week. Because of the absence of Valentine’s Day and due to the celebrations of the Carnivals, Brazil is a popular tourist spot during February for Western singles who want to get away from the holiday.

In most of Latin America the Día del amor y la amistad and the Amigo secreto (“Secret friend”) are quite popular and are usually celebrated together on the 14th of February (one exception is Columbia,  where it is celebrated on the third Saturday in September). The latter consists of randomly assigning to each participant a recipient who is to be given an anonymous gift (similar to the Christmas tradition of Secret Santa).

In the Philippines, Valentine’s Day is called Hearts Day, and is celebrated in much the same manner as in the West. It is usually marked by a steep increase in the price of flowers, particularly red roses.

In Portugal it is more commonly referred to as “Dia dos Namorados” (Lover’s Day / Day of the Enamored).

In Romania, the traditional holiday for lovers is Dragobete, which is celebrated on February 24. It is named after a character from Romanian folklore who was supposed to be the son of Baa Dochia.  Part of his name is the word drag (“dear”), which can also be found in the word dragoste (“love”). In recent years, Romania has also started celebrating Valentine’s Day, despite already having Dragobete as a traditional holiday. This has drawn backlash from several groups, institutions and nationalist organizations like Noua Dreapta, who condemn Valentine’s Day for being superficial, commercialist and imported Western kitsch

In Denmark and Norway, although February 14 is known as Valentinsdag, it is not celebrated to a large extent, but is largely imported from American culture, and some people take time to eat a romantic dinner with their partner, to send a card to a secret love or give a red rose to their loved one. The cut-flower industry in particular is still working on promoting the holiday. In Sweden it is called Alla hjärtans dag (“All Hearts’ Day”) and was launched in the 1960s by the flower industry’s commercial interests, and due to the influence of American culture. It is not an official holiday, but its celebration is recognized and sales of cosmetics and flowers for this holiday are only exceeded by those for Mother’s Day.

According to findings, Singaporeans are among the biggest spenders on Valentine’s Day, with 60% of Singaporeans indicating that they would spend between $100 and $500 during the season leading up to the holiday.

In South Korea, similar to Japan, women give chocolate to men on February 14, and men give non-chocolate candy to women on March 14 (White Day). On April 14 (Black Day), those who did not receive anything on 14 February or March go to a Korean restaurant to eat black noodles and “mourn” their single life.  Koreans also celebrate Pepero Day on November 11, when young couples give each other Pepero cookies. The date ’11/11′ is intended to resemble the long shape of the cookie. The 14th of every month marks a love-related day in Korea, although most of them are obscure. From January to December: Candle Day, Valentine’s Day, White Day, Black Day, Rose Day, Kiss Day, Silver Day, Green Day, Music Day, Wine Day, Movie Day, and Hug Day.  Korean women give a much higher amount of chocolate than Japanese women.

In Spain Valentine’s Day is known as “San Valentin”  and is celebrated the same way as in the UK, although in Catalonia it is largely superseded by similar festivities of rose and/or book giving on Saint George’s Day.

In Taiwan the situation is the reverse of Japan’s. Men give gifts to women on Valentine’s Day, and women return them on White Day.  

In Wales, many people celebrate St.  Dwynwen’s Day on January 25 instead of (or as well as) Valentine’s Day. The day commemorates St.  Dwynwen, the patron saint of Welsh lovers.

In the first part of the 21st century, the celebration of Valentine’s Day in Iran has been harshly criticized by Islamic Teachers who see the celebrations as opposed to Islamic culture. In 2011, the Iranian printing works owners’ union issued a directive banning the printing and distribution of any goods promoting the holiday, including cards, gifts and teddy bears.  “Printing and producing any goods related to this day including posters, boxes and cards emblazoned with hearts or half-hearts, red roses and any activities promoting this day are banned… Outlets that violate this will be legally dealt with”, the union warned.

Islamic officials in Malaysia warned Muslims against celebrating Valentine’s Day, linking it with vice activities.  The Deputy Prime Minister stated the celebration of romantic love was “not suitable” for Muslims.  The head of the Malaysian Islamic Development Department, which oversees the country’s Islamic policies, said that a ruling issued by the country’s top clerics in 2005 noted that the day ‘is associated with elements of Christianity,’ and ‘we just cannot get involved with other religion’s worshipping rituals.’ Jakim officials planned to carry out a nationwide campaign called “Awas Jerat Valentine’s Day” (“Mind the Valentine’s Day Trap”), aimed at preventing Muslims from celebrating the day on February 14th. Activities include conducting raids in hotels to stop young couples from having unlawful sex and distributing leaflets to Muslim university students warning them against the day.   On Valentine’s Day 2011, Malaysian religious authorities arrested more than 100 Muslim couples concerning the celebration ban. Some of them would be charged in the Shariah Court for defying the department’s ban against the celebration of Valentine’s Day.

The concept of Valentine’s Day was introduced into Pakistan during the late 1990s with special TV and radio programs. The Jamaat-e-Islami political party has called for the banning of Valentine’s Day celebration.  Despite this, the celebration is becoming popular among urban youth and the florists expect to sell a great amount of flowers, especially red roses. The case is the same with card publishers. However, the public at large still considers Valentine’s Day to be opposed to Pakistani culture and Islamic teachings.

In both 2002 and 2008 the religious police in Saudi Arabia, banned the sale of all Valentine’s Day items, telling shop workers to remove any red items, because the day is considered a Christian holiday. This ban has created a black market for roses and wrapping paper.   In 2012 the religious police arrested more than 140 Muslims for celebrating the holiday, and confiscated all red roses from flower shops. Muslims are not allowed to celebrate the holiday, and non-Muslims can celebrate only behind closed doors.

Kathy Kiefer

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